***September 8, 2021 NOTE***
With the 2021 season kicking off tomorrow night, it’s time to finalize the updated version of this article. Data is updated through the 2020 season and 2021 NFL Draft, and in the event that numbers changed in 2020, or could change in 2021, the team blurbs are updated too.
I won’t be updating data through the season on any consistent schedule, so as always, if you want to use this piece as a source at any point in the 2021 season and need updated figures, please reach out to me at email@example.com or DM me on Twitter.
Lastly, I caught some mistakes on the 2020 data, and obviously if this were published anywhere but on my independent blog, other people would check my numbers with me. If you see a mistake, please tell me. Thank you!
***April 30, 2021 NOTE***
I was already working to update this post, and planned to release new numbers after the draft. In light of the Bears selecting Justin Fields in the 1st round, I ran through my spreadsheet and updated everything there.
I will still update this overall story, but if you’re a journalist, radio/pod host, blogger, whatever, and you’re using this as a source, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter, but this spreadsheet is up to date. Thank you!
ORIGINAL INTRO, 17 SEP. 2020
This all started last November, when a pair of Bears-related news stories intersected and sent me down a rabbit hole.
The first came Nov. 12, when Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer of the Tribune did a deep dive on Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Mitch Trubisky in 2017 over both Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, including the unsettling details that Pace and co. never met Watson for a private workout or dinner, and that they drafted Trubisky in part because Pace — who came from the Saints — was looking for “the next Drew Brees.”
The second came four days later, when Colin Kaepernick held a workout for all 32 teams, with only a handful sending representatives, seemingly not the Bears.
The Bears were 4-5 at the time, and would drop to 4-6 shortly after, with Trubisky struggling the year after what seemed like his breakout season. Trubisky’s struggles combined with the great play of Mahomes and Watson combined with the Tribune story combined with the Kaepernick workout led to a lot of conversation about the Bears’ quarterback decisions (what else is new).
But among many Black Bears fans, and plenty of white ones too, these events brought more debates on whether the Bears organization fundamentally did not want a Black quarterback to lead the franchise. I was involved in plenty of these debates, and had wondered about this myself, since the team has only had one long-term Black starting QB in my conscious fan life, Kordell Stewart in 2003, and only two in the franchise’s history, with Vince Evans the other.
As a result of this question, I wanted to see what the numbers said. This article is the results of that search.
To track this data, I started with Greg Howard’s invaluable two-part series on Deadspin in 2014, “The Big Book of Black Quarterbacks.” I wrote down all of those names, and then used Pro Football Reference to check their starts. I also followed a lot of the exemplary work from The Undefeated, including its 2017 story on the first Black starting QB per franchise.
(And though I did not use it in my research, I highly recommend this Football Outsiders from February called “The 100-Year History of Black Quarterbacks in the NFL.”)
For my list, I made George Taliaferro on the 1953 Colts the starting point of what constitutes a quarterback. 1950 was the year when the NFL changed its substitution rules, ending the era of the automatic two-way player and creating specialty around the quarterback position.
1953 was also the year that the Bears signed Michigan State’s Willie Thrower, who is credited as the first Black traditional QB in the league.
Once I had my list, I counted starts in both the regular season and playoffs. I also tabulated each franchise’s percentage of games that a Black quarterback started out of total games in franchise history, albeit starting in 1953.
I also looked at how each team has drafted quarterbacks in the first four rounds since 1995; the first four rounds, because you draft a QB that high, he’s your future starter. (I’ll explain the 1995 cutoff very soon, in the Titans/Oilers section.)
Lastly, if you’re interested, here is my spreadsheet. It’s not really made for public consumption — this is more a “peak behind the curtain” scenario. I will be updating it periodically, and there are also tabs that are very much works in progress. As such, if you want to cite it in a tweet, article, wherever, check with me first at email@example.com, or hit me on Twitter.
Enough chatter. On the 100-year anniversary of the meeting that launched the NFL, and in the season when a record 10 Black quarterbacks started in Week 1, here are the results.
(Note: As of 9/9/21, numbers are through the conclusion of the 2020 season.)
Continue reading “The complete history of Black NFL starting quarterbacks — ranked by franchise”